So let’s get this out of the way.
Julio Jones didn’t see most of the game the other night. But he obviously knows who won and he has been displaying only a subtle Alabama brag since. He’s not parading around the Falcons’ practice facility this week dressed out in Crimson Tide swag, nor is he handing out little elephant plush toys, nor blaring a godawful Lynyrd Skynyrd song from a speaker.
“I don’t need it. You know what happened,” Jones said Thursday.
I told him Rams running back Todd Gurley wore Georgia stuff all week before the playoff game against the Falcons.
“Probably why they lost.”
“I don’t need to wear Alabama stuff. Everybody knows I love Alabama. I’m from Alabama. I went there. I don’t need to brag. You know? When you’re accustomed to things, you don’t brag.”
(I consider this the ultimate brag.)
Did he watch the game?
“I did not. I was actually asleep. I watched the first two drives for each team and then I was out. I didn’t know until the next morning and I was like, ‘Oh, it was a good game.’ I went on ESPN and I saw all the highlights. I was like, ‘Oh, Georgia got out on us.’”
Wait for it ...
“But at the end of the day, it’s doesn’t say, ‘Barely.’ It’s ‘national champions.’”
Don’t hate on the man, Georgia fans. He’s just keeping it real.
Just be thankful Jones plays for the local NFL team. Because it really doesn’t matter which one or two of his body parts show up on the Falcons’ injury list. He has been listed on weekly injury reports for a bad back (once), hip (once), ankle alone (four times), ankle-knee combination (once), ankle-thumb combination (twice) and ankle-ribs combination (once).
But he keeps playing, and he keeps producing. His touchdowns and yards-per-game are down slightly this season from a year ago – along with the entire Falcons’ offense. He had some drops during the regular season (seven ranked tied for second in the NFL). But this is the guy you want in the postseason.
Jones was targeted nine times and he had nine catches for 94 yards and a touchdown in the 26-13 wild-card win at Los Angeles on Saturday. In seven career playoff games, he has 52 catches for 733 yards (14.1 yard per catch), six touchdowns and 104.7 yards per game.
His per-game averages in catches (7.4 to 6.2), yardage (104.7 to 95.3) and touchdown receptions (.86 to .45) is actually higher in the playoffs than the regular season.
This week at Philadelphia, the Falcons will need to run the ball significantly better than they did last season against the Eagles (13 carries for 48 yards in a 24-15 loss). But Jones should be able to find some room in the Philly secondary, assuming the offensive line provides Matt Ryan some protection against Philly’s pass rush.
“They’re front seven is really, really good,” Jones said. “What I look at (on film) is how much they play man-to-man, and things like that. We’ll see when we get to the game, if they’re going to cheat the safety to my side.”
They will. Tampa Bay singled up Jones earlier this season and the result was predictable: 12 catches, 253 yards, two touchdowns. Everybody likes Mike Smith. But nobody could figure out what he was thinking that week.
But Jones lives for the playoffs. By all rights, his ridiculous leaping 27-yard catch just inside the sideline at the New England 22 should have clinched the Super Bowl. (Apologies for venturing back again. I needed the reference point.)
Sports history is littered with great athletes who shrink in the glare of postseason games. Jones embraces the heat.
“You can sense somebody’s energy for (the playoffs),” coach Dan Quinn said. “It speaks to the competitor Julio is. He loves being challenged. I can feel his energy, and it has ramped up.”
“It’s win or go home,” Jones said. “I have the same mentality every game. I don’t know why my numbers are like that. I’m not a numbers guy.”
Nor is he a guy who likes to acknowledge pain. There was a time -- a very brief time -- when Jones let an injury bother him. He played through wrist and shoulder injuries as a freshman at Alabama but never came out of the lineup and had three different surgeries after the season (one for a sports hernia). He suffered a bruised knee as a sophomore, missing one game. But it was a broken hand his junior year that gave him pause.
“I broke my hand on Saturday and had surgery Sunday,” he said. “I played the following week. I would say I was a little timid to catch because of the pain, and it was just messing with me mentally. I could’ve just said, ‘Forget it. It’s gonna hurt.’ I couldn’t do anymore damage because I already had surgery.”
In that first game back. Jones had one catch against Ole Miss. The following week, after beating himself up about the game, he had 12 catches for 221 yards at Tennessee. Injuries haven’t impacted his approach to a game since.
“The thing with being injured is just blacking it out,” said Jones, who has played through ankle injuries since mid-season. “Don’t use that as an excuse. If you say you’re gonna go, go. Don’t bring it up in the middle of the game. ‘Oh, this hurts.’ Yeah, we know that. Don’t let your mind be negative. Be positive. You don’t want to talk about it. If I suit up, I’m going and I’m not saying anything about it.”
Jones has a miniature bobblehead doll of himself on a shelf in his locker. It doesn’t look anything like him, other than the red No. 11 jersey, but the player said he’s keeping his likeness safe. The mini-Hoo has never fallen.
“Never been injured. I gotta keep him upright,” he said. “See, he’s, ‘Throw me the ball!’ ”
Good game plan.